Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: High Midnight Review

Originally published in the Straight Outta Tombstone supernatural western short story collection from Baen Books, The Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations crew are back and heading for a shootout in the Unnatural Quarter at High Midnight.
Does this story deserve to hang its hat next to the rest of the Shamble canon?
Let’s find out!

Consider this your official ***SPOILER ALERT***, gang.

Knowing how much I love this series, this character, and this world, it would take a lot for me to say it doesn’t deserve its place in the overall tapestry.
At this point, Shamble is like Scooby for me, KJA would have to really go off the rails and go in a ridiculous Get A Clue-esque direction to lose my interest.

As the story goes Robin (Deyer, Dan’s business partner) has helped work out the contracts to bring an old west show to the UQ, the main attraction being the ghost of a gunslinger named Deadeye One-Eye.
I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that one of the things that makes this series so much fun is figuring out the rules and just how this world works and, once again, he adds another spoke or two to the wheel.
In Book 2, Unnatural Acts, we find out that there are ways to destroy ghosts.
In this story we find out a whole new way that they can get hurt and die…again!

After a display of his gunslinging abilities, Deadeye One-Eye gives Dan a vague threat about his Great-Great-Umpty-Ump Grandpappy, Dirk Chambeaux.
Says he’ll see Dan at High Midnight and pimps away…only to have gunfire ring out!
The promoter of the event, Mild Bill (the alleged ghost of Wild Bill), gets caught in the crossfire and is fatally shot with ghost bullets, which I know sounds hokey as shit but trust me, it works.
As he dies and fades away, he clues Dan & Co in on ol Dirk in a pretty cool way.
There is another cool world rule for ghosts that I don’t want to spoil, but it was so unexpected and I loved it.

KJA’s style is still colorful, but not overly detailed which makes it easy to devour.
You can tell he loves these characters, the warmth between the mains makes that obvious.
My way to sell this series for quite a while now has been to say that it’s like The Rockford Files meets the Universal Monsters, but the more accurate description would be The Rockford Files meets The Munsters with a pinch of The Addams Family.
It also helps scratch a long lasting itch I’ve had for some solid supernatural Western action.
It’s full of so much wacky fun, it’s punny, it’s clever, and there’s just not enough Dan Shamble in the world to satisfy my insatiable hunger.

I’m damn skippy this will be in the new Dan Shamble short story collection KJA has said is coming this fall.
If this is any indication of the quality of the other DSZPI shorts he’s written lately, we are in for some great shit when it drops.

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Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Working Stiff Review

I hope Kevin J. Anderson won’t be upset about this since he regularly tweets it to 12K+ people (but if he has an issue, I will gladly pull this part out).
But just to start off, you can get a free E copy of this book by signing up for his reading group right here.
It’s a great 1st taste of this series.
On to the review!

Dan Chambeaux is back from the dead and back on the case…all 7 of them.
But how do all of these short stories stack up against the full length novels?
Surprisingly, pretty damn well actually.

We’re about to go balls deep on this, so consider this your official ***SPOILER WARNING***, Gang.
And consider this your ***long winded warning*** as well.

The stories included are Stakeout At The Vampire Circus, Road Kill, Naughty & Nice, Locked Room, The Writing On The Wall, Role Model, Beware Of Dog, in that order.
Since I’ve already reviewed Naughty & Nice (read that right here), so I won’t be talking about that story in this piece.

Stakeout At The Vampire Circus is a pretty fun story that involves a band of klepto goblins ripping off everybody from a cross-dressing fortune teller to a neurotic vampire trapeze artist.
This one feels a lot like an ep of Scooby-Doo, and that alone makes it fun for me.

As I have said before, Road Kill didn’t do much for me because it wasn’t doing what I thought Shamble stories do best, which is balancing storylines.
After reading all of these, I’m not so sure that’s the case as a few of these have single threads and are great slices of Shamble.
In fact, one of my 2 favorite stories in here is, upon reflection, a razor thin story that mostly takes place in 1 room.

Locked Room reminds me a lot of Family Guy’s 150th Episode Brian & Stewie where 2 characters are locked in a vault.
In this story, Dan & Spooky are hired by a Harpy named Esther to test a cemetery vault she is having built to entomb her near death, pain in the ass sister…and make sure she can never escape!
Much like the Family Guy Ep, this story feels ballsy as hell.
Unlike that Ep, KJA does throw to scenes outside of the vault, but mostly just to fully explain why and how they got into this mess.
After a little bit of time locked in, Spooky really starts to panic which gives a tiny peek into her death and afterlife.
Once dead, you’d think fear would be a thing of the past, but obviously not for Sheyenne.
In a longer form this could be a real deep look at these characters…which maybe wouldn’t be great for a comedy book, but would help you better understand them.
The way they break out is rather ingenious too, playing on the vanity of some artists.

I did end up liking Road Kill a bit better the 2nd time around, but it’s still probably the weakest story in this book and of the Shamble series overall.
I’m not sure what it is about that story, but it just doesn’t click with me.
It’s a lot like Guardians Of The Galaxy, I’m really struggling to understand why I don’t love it and it’s bugging me.

The Writing On The Wall is where things get very deliberately popculture heavy, and it’s at this point that the collection really kicks into high gear.
Imagine Elvira gets tired of the public eye and wants folks to just remember her show from back in the day so she goes into seclusion.
Now imagine she died and came back as a ghost with poltergeist powers that were so weak that she had to try to control/possess some dullard Zombies to get a message to the outside world, that’s this story.
By the 3rd page of this story, I had a good idea what was going on.
Zombies all around the Unnatural Quarter have been writing letters in graffiti: “HE”, “LP”, “I’VE”, & “FA”.
Anybody that has watched late night TV knows that’s easy to put together.
Watching Dan’s business partner Robin Deyer fan girl over “Angina, Mistress Of Fright” and again having Spooky confront the meaning of afterlife, but in a different way than in Locked Room, are both highlights here.
More like she did in a bigger way in book 4, as I recall.
If something bigger comes from these books, Sheyenne is gonna be the character to watch.
She’ll definitely be the grounding dramatic force.

Role Model is hands down the best story here, so don’t be surprised if you hear an ep or 2 of The Nerd Blitz Book Club with this as the focus.
I was having flashbacks to Episode 39 the entire time as Dan and McGoo head to a Cosplay Convention to work security.
When a vampiric member of the 501st is staked, they have to chase down the killer and the journey is off and running.
If The Writing On The Wall started the pop culture lovefest, this is the moneyshot.
I know Google is the easy route to go, but I’m damn skippy KJA has a near encyclopedic knowledge of old TV Shows, Movies, and media.
There was an Episode of MONK called “Mr. Monk And The Actor” that was flashing through my mind when reading this that made me love this more than all of the nonstop references.
I’m almost convinced KJA has seen it, but if not…damn!
In the course of the investigation, Dan meets a dude cosplaying as him who is just as great a detective as Dan is…or is he?
KJA’s insight into nerddom and our squabbles about petty shit (canon, superior franchse debates, dumbass minor details) again leads me believe he is one of us, not just been dealing with us for 30+ years.
The ending is exactly how I felt at the end of Archon 41 too.
Going in I was thinking “what a bunch of weirdos” but at the end of the night I was ready for next year, same as Dan.

And finally Beware Of Dog.
This story centers on legendary UQPD Werewolf cop Hairy Harry, a damaged former officer, whose hellhound has been seemingly kidnapped.
At the same time, a giant, ferocious, furry Beast has been damaging property around the Quarter.
Are they connected?
Of course!
Yet another special interest group is introduced in this story, GETA (Gremlins for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), adding another layer of depth and comparison to the real world.
They’ve been breaking in and letting dogs loose from the animal shelter, staging protests outside of the pet clinic, and causing other incidents of havok/annoyance in town.
The obvious comparisons to Clint Eastwood and his assortment of grizzled characters are made, sometimes in subtle ways.
And Hairy Harry hunting down the GETA (not so) Secret Headquarters is kind of thrilling.
The idea that a Shamble series may be in the works makes me desperately want to see this story and that chase on screen!

So, in conclusion, this book/collection is the perfect way to introduce yourself to this universe.
I know now that KJA isn’t obsessive about chronology or continuity with these short stories, they are designed solely to catch your interest and pull you into the books.
And they do just that.
The variety of different types of stories in here flex all of the muscles of this series, and show you just what it can do.
The hints at what could be, the potential for other deeper stories makes it all the more intriguing for me.

Use the link above or (even better) show even greater support by buying it wherever you can, get in on this now, gang.
5 books in less than a year, and I’m still loving it.